The Hanged Cow
The opening of the third Mike Malone mystery.
The Hanged Cow
Albert Fisher dropped his bike into the hedgerow and staggered into the undergrowth. Thankfully, the moon was hidden behind a cloud as he unzipped his trousers, and he relaxed. He should never have had that last pint with Fred; now Doris would be annoyed with him because he was late. As he zipped himself up again, the cloud moved aside to reveal a shimmering full moon; Albert gazed at it drunkenly, before turning to find his bike. A sudden movement caused him to turn around again and to look into the field, straight into the eyes of a large, silver cow hanging from a tree.
“Well, bugger me! They’ll never believe me in the pub.”
I stared at the calendar. It was nearly the end of October; I had been here nearly a year. It had been a good move for me, away from the city. For the first time in a long time, I was feeling as if my life was beginning to return to normal. I looked out of the window into a grey, cloud-filled sky. My first autumn in Lincolnshire, and although some found the vast expanses of grey, dull fenland skies oppressive, I didn’t. Lincolnshire was getting under my skin, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else that I would rather be.
Shepherd bounded into the office, scattering my rambling thoughts into various corners.
“Are you coming, Sir?”
“I’ll be right there, lad.”
He scampered out of the office again and I put my jacket on. Constable Brooks was celebrating his twenty-fifth birthday and we were all having a drink after work. Unfortunately, the chosen venue was The Cat and Fiddle which was not my favourite drinking establishment. The landlord, Bob Archer, was not the most genial of hosts, in fact he was totally obnoxious. Every time I saw him, I just wanted to slap handcuffs on his fat little wrists and drag him to the nearest cell.
The pub was surprisingly quite busy when we all arrived, and I took a great amount of satisfaction at seeing Bob’s face freeze in horror as a bunch of uniformed police officers arrived on his threshold. Although he relaxed somewhat when he saw the joviality of the young officers as they shook off their coats, I could still see some wariness remaining in the corner of his eye.
I looked around for the barmaid, wondering who Bob had persuaded to take on the job after Cat Browning had left several months previously. I was pleased that Cat and Alan Shepherd had now come to their senses and decided that they were, as I had known all along, ideal partners. They had become engaged on her twenty third birthday and were planning to get married next year. I had been the first person that they had told and when Cat had asked if I would give her away, I had felt as proud as if she had been my own daughter. However, there was a downside to this. When I had taken my morning suit out of its mothballs and tried it on, it didn’t fit! I couldn’t believe how much the suit had shrunk over the years! So, then and there, Fiona had decided that I could do with losing a few pounds. I was now on a diet!
“What can I get you?” A deep, rather sexy, voice pulled me away from thoughts of wedding cakes and food and I found myself gazing at a small silver pendant calmly sitting in rather nice cleavage. I raised my eyes quickly and was met by an attractive face framed by glossy brunette hair. Dark heavily made up eyes and an ample mouth completed the picture.
“Seven pints please, it looks as if the first round has fallen to me.” A cheer rose from the corner where Shepherd, Brooks and the others had pulled together two tables and I grinned. “Mike Malone. I haven’t seen you here before.”
No more was said and she concentrated upon pulling the pints. I smiled inwardly, it looked as if Bob had managed to find someone just as abrupt and unfriendly as himself.
As I was taking the last of the pints over to our corner, a conversation between Fred Greengrass and Albert Fisher not only caught my attention, it pulled me over to their end of the bar.
“Mr Malone, you can sort this out, can’t you?” Albert lunged towards me and threw his arm around my shoulder. I was surprised. It wasn’t even six o’clock and he was already well on the way to a hangover.
“I’ll do my best.” I removed his arm from my shoulder and moved closer to Fred Greengrass, who I hoped would be the calming influence on his friend.
“Mr Malone, do you believe in fairies?” Fred asked with a broad grin.
“I believe in what I can see, Fred.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Same answer as before.” I looked across at Albert who had a face that would sink a thousand ships. He had his arms folded and was not enjoying being the butt of Fred’s joke.
“I know what I saw.” Albert thumped his fist down on the bar and the glasses all jumped. Bob Archer waddled over to him instantly.
“Watch your temper, Albert,” he snarled, “or I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Albert drew himself up to his full height and looked down on us all from above. “I’d like to see you try, Bob Archer.”
Bob scuttled off as fast as his stomach would allow and joined Gemma. After lots of gesticulation, Gemma came over to our end of the bar. One nil to Albert!
“Now this is the big one, Mr Malone,” Fred was jumping around like a schoolboy, eager to get one over on his mate. “Do you believe in silver cows?”
“Aye! Albert said he saw a silver cow last night.”
“I did! I bloody did!” The fist came down on the bar again. It was down to me; all eyes in the bar were upon me. I felt sweat trickling down my back and I ran a finger round my collar as I looked up at Albert. I swallowed.
“There are more things in heaven and earth than we can understand.” It wasn’t quite Shakespeare, but it was near enough to get me out a hole and spare Albert from more teasing. “Gemma! Give them all a drink, on me.”
Throwing a wink across to Albert, who responded with a two-eyed wink, I went to rejoin the birthday party.
It was nice to open the front door to my cottage; after two hours in a noisy pub with one solitary pint because that was all I was allowed, I was looking forward to putting my feet up and unwinding with Shakespeare. Anyway, I knew that Shepherd, Brooks and the others would relax a lot better without the ‘boss’ being there.
Ophelia was asleep on her chair in the lounge and she opened an eye in greeting. Finally, she condescended to get up and greet me properly, although I knew that the real reason for her attention was that she was hungry. The answer phone light was flashing and I swore under my breath; it looked as if I had missed a call from Fiona who was spending a couple of weeks in Yorkshire with her mother before her next skin graft. Poor Fiona, she was anxious about having to undergo yet another operation. Even though I told her constantly that her scars were not an issue, she was convinced that she had to try and make herself perfect for me. I pressed the button.
“Sorry to bother you, Sir. It’s Grayson here.” I smiled. Poor Grayson! Once again my absence had forced him to speak to a machine. I waited for the rest of the message, and I waited. All I could hear was Grayson breathing. Note to self, send Grayson on a course for speaking into answer phones. I picked up the receiver and dialled the station, waiting to hear Grayson’s deep voice fill the silence of my cottage.
As Grayson recounted the details of Peter Dean’s irate phone call, I realised that Albert had been telling the truth after all. Mr Dean wanted the full weight of the law thrown at the mindless, idiotic vandals who had last night entered his field and attacked his cows; they had been sprayed silver and one had died. After listening, I looked at my watch. I didn’t want to go stomping across a field at this time of the evening, especially as it was now dark, and Shepherd would certainly be no good to me after two or three pints. I told Grayson to let Mr Dean know that we would be there first thing in the morning. I disconnected the call, then phoned and left a message for Shepherd to let him know that we would be going on a farm visit and to bring his wellies.
© copyright Milly Reynolds 2011